MARCH 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

What a strange month this has been for watching birds in our garden: for close on two weeks even the Laughing Doves seemed to be keeping their distance; the level of seed in the hanging feeders barely went down; and the nectar feeder has only been replenished once this month – mainly because the spout had become clogged with dead ants!

Then the birds started to return: Yellow-fronted Canaries and Bronze Manikins jostled around the seed feeder early in the mornings, making it sway to and fro with their arrivals and departures; the weavers have been arriving in smaller numbers than usual around mid-morning; a few Black-eyed Bulbuls inspect the window ledges for insects; and the various doves forage for seed scattered on the lawn in the warmer part of the day.

Fiery-necked Nightjars call through the hot evenings – at ten o’ clock last night it was still 24°C – and African Dusky Flycatchers dart about the bird bath set in the deep shade of the forested part of the garden. A family of four Black-collared Barbets, two youngsters each being fed by an adult, kept me entertained at the feeding table recently.

This is a time of change: the Whiterumped Swifts and Lesserstriped Swallows are gathering in ever large numbers in preparation for their arduous journey north; Pin-tailed Whydahs are changing into winter tweeds; weavers are looking drabber; and the African Green pigeons have moved to a more convenient food source elsewhere.

My March list is:

African Darter
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Cuckoo
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Black Saw-wing
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Fierynecked Nightjar
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Loerie
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pintailed Whydah
Redeyed Dove
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Speckled Mousebird
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowfronted Canary
Yellow Weaver

FEBRUARY 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

It is not surprising that Laughing Doves have been the dominant birds in our garden this month: their numbers have increased over the years and they are always among the first to feed on the coarse maize seed I scatter on the lawn in the mornings. It takes about twenty minutes from the time of doing so until first one or two come down, soon to be followed by the rest of the gang that have flown ever closer to the source of the food – from the telephone cable in the back garden, to the Cape Chestnut, to the Wild Plum (perching ever lower down) until over thirty of them make short work of the maize. A few adventurous ones perch on Morrigan’s feeder to get the fine seed and some manage to hang onto the seed house for long enough to get some of the seed there.

Laughing Doves

Nesting time is far from over: the Lesser-striped Swallows completed their mud nest outside our front door – with the result we tend to use either the kitchen door or the side door to give them some peace. The White-rumped Swifts do not have any compunction about trying to usurp this nest for their own progeny and so the swallows have had to devote a lot of energy towards defending their home territory.

Careful observation of a pair of Olive Thrushes finally revealed their nesting site right next to the garden path!

Olive Thrush nest

Weavers have also continued building nests around the garden.

Weaver nest

I thought I would compare this month’s bird list with that of February last year. Seven species have not been seen, while thirteen others have come to the garden that were not seen last year.

My February list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Cuckoo
Black Cuckooshrike
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Black Saw-wing
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Boubou
Brimstone Canary
Bronze Manikin
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Common Waxbill
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Gymnogene
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Knysna Loerie
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Red Bishop
Redeyed Dove
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Thickbilled Weaver
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowbilled Kite
Yellow Weaver

JANUARY 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

Village weavers are probably the most ubiquitous birds in our garden and are resident throughout the year. We thus see them through all their phases, from winter drabness to the full sartorial splendour of their bright yellow breeding plumage.

Village Weaver

They used to be known as Spotted-backed Weavers until the International Ornithological Congress came up with a globally accepted set of common names. The name change has, I think, drawn attention away from a major distinguishing difference between it and the Southern Masked-weaver which looks very similar, but does not have the blotched back. The Village Weavers are often among the first birds to visit the ‘seed house’ and are not averse to tucking into the apples or drinking from the nectar feeder.

Village Weavers

The Village Weavers are avid nest builders and can frequently be seen flying around with strips of leaves or grass in their beaks. They will often start a nest and abandon it before completion and begin another in a different location. The name ‘weaver’ is an apt one and it is worth watching as they deftly weave the grass into the shape of a nest.

‘Our’ Lesser-striped swallows are tenacious about nest-building too. Having raised one chick from their newly located nest around the side of the house, the poor birds once again had to face the collapse of their nest. Undaunted, they are now placing experimental daubs of mud on the wall outside our front door!

Lesserstriped Swallow

My January bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Cuckoo
Black Saw-wing
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Greyheaded Sparrow
Gymnogene
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Red Bishop
Redeyed Dove
Redfaced Mousebird
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellow-fronted Canary
Yellow Weaver

DECEMBER 2016 GARDEN BIRDS

Despite the heat and the on-going drought, this has been an interesting month for birdwatching in my garden. Red-winged Starlings have been regular visitors to the feeding station and make short work of any cut apples I put out. Here you can clearly see the female, with the grey head, in the foreground while the male pecks at the fruit behind.

Redwinged starlings

A lone young Hadeda Ibis has been probing the ground daily looking for food, covering the extent of the garden several times during the day. Several Hadedas still roost in the fig tree every night and wake us all with their morning cackles.

Hadeda ibis

While Cape White-eyes form part of the daily dawn chorus and are regularly heard flitting through the shrubs, it has been good to see them feeding on the apples too.

Cape white-eye

An unusual visitor has been a Red Bishop, seen below sharing the feeder with a Cape Weaver. For the past three years a single male Red Bishop has made periodic visits to my garden – from where, I cannot tell. He is a welcome visitor though and adds a bright pop of colour to the regulars.

Red Bishop

My December bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Cuckoo
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Darter
Diederik Cuckoo
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Red Bishop
Redchested Cuckoo
Redeyed Dove
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift

CHRISTMAS IN ADDO

We decided to break with tradition this year and spent Christmas Day in the Addo Elephant National Park – as did hundreds of others! A long queue of vehicles developed outside the Matyholweni (meaning ‘in the bush’ in Xhosa) Gate at the southern entrance to the Park. Some people donned Christmas hats and there was an atmosphere of cheer as visitors in a festive mood greeted each other in passing. Jack’s Picnic Site was so chockful of people at noon that several families simply enjoyed a picnic lunch in the scant shade of their vehicles. Vehicles were parked as far back as the turnoff to the chalets when we reached the Main Rest Camp. The picnic site there too was filled to the brim with people braaiing or having a picnic in whatever shade they could find. Fortunately, we had booked for the 2 p.m. Christmas dinner at the Cattle Baron.

The weather was gloriously clear and a pleasantly warm 23°C when we arrived mid-morning. By three o’clock in the afternoon though the temperature had soared to 40°C and a strong wind had begun to whip up the dust, so thick in places that it was often difficult to see very far.

dusty Addo

This is a good time of the year to see the Spekboom (Portulacaria afra) in bloom and we were not disappointed. The clusters of small, star-shaped, dusky pink flowers created a wonderful display from close to the ground to the trees that had somehow managed to grow tall without being eaten by elephants.

spekboom

There was an abundance of the latter: we were spoiled with magnificent sightings of hundreds of elephants, mostly near the waterholes of Hapoor and at the Main Rest Camp. In the image below you can see a fraction of one herd moving away from the water. Note the paths that have been made through the bush.

Addo elephants

Other elephants were at smaller waterholes and allowed us very close-up views of them.

Zebras are such photogenic creatures that it is very difficult to pick out one image from the many photographs I took of them.

zebra

Given the heat and the prolonged drought, it was very sad to see this mangy black-backed jackal making its way through the dry grass. This disease is caused by mites (Sarcoptes scabiei) burrowing into the skin to complete their lifecycle. The condition may become chronic and eventually leads to the death of the animal in the wild.

mangy blackbacked jackal

On a much more cheerful note, we saw this very attractive mountain tortoise next to the road as we were heading home at the end of an interesting Christmas Day.

mountain tortoise

My bird list is:

Black Crow
Black Harrier
Black Sunbird
Black-headed Heron
Blacksmith Plover
Bokmakierie
Boubou
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Wagtail
Cape White-eye
Crowned Plover
Egyptian Goose
Fiscal Shrike
Fork-tailed Drongo
Hadeda Ibis
Helmeted Guineafowl
Lesser-striped Swallow
Ostrich
Pied Starling
Red-billed Teal
Red-knobbed Coot
Sombre Bulbul
South African Shelduck
Speckled Mousebird
Stanley’s Bustard

NOVEMBER 2016 GARDEN BIRDS

Depending on the weather, the dawn chorus begins at around half past three these days. This morning, for example, I could hear Cape White-eyes, Cape Turtle Doves, Klaas’ Cuckoos and a Cape Robin – until the raucous Hadeda Ibises joined in shortly after four o’ clock! One simply has to love these birds.

There seem to be many more Village Weavers than Cape Weavers visiting the garden of late. The males of both species look very smart in their elegant breeding livery. Laughing Doves abound and fill the warm mornings with their soft, burbling cooing. The Lesser-striped Swallows completed building their mud nest under the eaves and have spent the past week lining it with grass and lichen. The image of the nest reveals what might be a crack at the back of it – I am holding thumbs the nest will hold long enough for the eggs to hatch and the youngsters to leave. Note the different colours of the mud the birds have used in the construction of this nest.

Lesserstriped swallow nest

Lesserstriped Swallow

Birds have had to dive for cover this month both for a Black Harrier and a Yellow-billed Kite. The latter spent nearly a week roving across town and sweeping low over the garden. Fork-tailed Drongos and Black-eyed Bulbuls are quick to sound the alarm.

I have been intrigued by the Speckled Mousebirds feeding on apples that have fallen from the feeding tray to the ground; I usually associate them with clinging closely to branches as they work their way through the trees.

My November bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Harrier
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redchested Cuckoo
Redeyed Dove
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Southern Boubou
Speckled Mousebird
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowbilled Kite
Yellowfronted Canary

BIRD ANTICS IN ADDO

Despite the stiff breeze that whipped up dust, I was able to compile a satisfying list of birds seen in the Addo Elephant National Park. Even though the calls of Sombre Bulbuls dominate the park, their cryptic colouring makes them difficult to spot while driving through the bush. I thus was pleased to see a pair of them emerging from the scrub at Jack’s Picnic Site to scrounge for any titbits that might be lying around.

sombre bulbul

The most ubiquitous bird in the Park though is the Fiscal Shrike. They are seen everywhere: perching on the top of bushes, swooping down to catch an insect, or flying across the veld from one perch to another.

fiscal shrike

Southern Boubous are also very vocal at this time of the year. We could hear them whenever we were stopped at a waterhole and found it absorbing to watch a pair of them courting – in between eating – at the picnic site.

southern boubou

As we know, Egyptian Geese are territorial and quick to defend their spot. It was interesting observing a pair of them chasing a flock of South African Shelducks from ‘their’ sandbar in the middle of Ghwarrie Waterhole. In the image of the Domkrag Waterhole below, you can just make out a female Egyptian Goose setting off in the water with her goslings in tow.

Domkrag waterhole

Flocks of Speckled Mousebirds abounded. Their long tails make them easily identifiable as they fly across the veld. It is not always that easy to spot them once they have landed though for they blend easily into the vegetation.

speckled mousebird

During our visit to the Kruger National Park we became used to seeing animals covered with Red-billed Oxpeckers. Not so in Addo, instead on this visit we watched a Pied Crow that had been hovering around the elephants at Lismore Waterhole land briefly on a buffalo before taking off again.

pied crow on buffalo

pied crow leaving buffalo

Several Pied Starlings fringed the edge of the Woodlands Waterhole and as some kudu bulls arrived for a late afternoon drink, a starling hopped onto the back of one of them. The others looked on as if waiting for their turn!

pied starling on kudu

My bird list for the day:

Bar-throated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Black-shouldered Kite
Blacksmith Plover
Black-winged Stilt
Blue Crane
Bokmakierie
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cattle Egret
Egyptian Goose
Emerald-spotted Wood Dove
Fiscal Shrike
Hadeda Ibis
Helmeted Guineafowl
House Sparrow
Karoo Scrub Robin
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Little Grebe
Olive Thrush
Ostrich
Pearl-breasted Swallow
Pied Starling
Red-knobbed Coot
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-winged Starling
Rufous-naped Lark
Secretary Bird
Sombre Bulbul
South African Shelduck
Southern Boubou
Speckled Mousebird
Streaky-headed Canary
Yellow-billed Duck
Yellow-billed Kite